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Before we get to today’s newsletter, a quick public service announcement about two deadlines coming up next Monday, August 8. 

  • Strengthen your news business. We’re offering three GNI Startups Labs programs this fall focused on managing money and risk, building and managing a team, and planning for revenue growth. You’ll get coaching and up to $15K in funding when you complete the course. The deadline to apply is next Monday, August 8. 
  • Request an audit (and yes, funding!) to identify and act on business opportunities. Our LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program has already provided 45 LION members with personalized business advice and up to $6,000 of funding, and we’re only halfway done for the year. The deadline to apply for the next round of audits is also next Monday, August 8. 
If you have any questions about these programs or your eligibility for them, just reply to this email or drop us a note at

And now let’s talk about Ozy…

What digital media's big flops can teach us

CNN+. Ozy. The Correspondent. 

Their post-mortems uncovered many dramatic, even peculiar details, like a COO getting caught in an impersonation ruse and a pair of unscrupulous founders being accused of “betrayal.

But idiosyncrasies aside, there’s a simpler explanation for these media flops, as well as many other failed startups in the news industry and beyond:

They didn’t understand their target audience, and as a result they built products that didn’t meet that audience’s needs. 

CNN+ spent millions on staff and marketing only to shut down amid comparisons to Quibi. Ozy talked a big game about reaching millennials but never figured out what they actually wanted. And The Correspondent lined up plenty of big-name ambassadors but couldn’t get even 30 percent of its initial paying members to renew.

The irony is that many of the companies and leaders behind these failed efforts are no slouches in the mechanics of growing an audience. 

CNN has built a global media empire, of course, and The Correspondent’s sister publication in The Netherlands has one of the most successful paid membership programs in Europe.

Even Ozy founder Carlos Watson can plausibly claim to be an expert in media growth, at least of the paid variety

In other words, these businesses had access to the kind of audience development resources and talent that most news startups could only dream of – and yet they failed anyway. 

The takeaway: No amount of marketing savvy, tech wizardry or personal charm can save a news business that doesn’t understand the audience it’s trying to serve. 

That’s why we’ve decided to start our new content series at LION with a focus on knowing your audience and what they need from your news business.

We know that audience growth is a top priority from LION members, and our hypothesis is that learning how to execute a reader survey or conduct interviews with subscribers is a foundational step in that process, paving the way for growth tactics like referral campaigns and paid marketing to pay off.  

To kick off this month’s focus on audience, we talked with The Green Line founder Anita Li and WhereBy.Us co-founder Rebekah Monson about their lessons from the field. Hear that conversation in the season 2 debut of News Guest, our podcast offering practical advice about how to build a strong, more sustainable news business. 

We’re also offering two opportunities this month exclusively for LION members:
  • We’re hosting a LION member meetup later this month! Join us on Wednesday, August 31 for our Audience Growth Workshop: Know and Grow Your Audience. You’ll come away with clear next steps for how to apply user research methods to your work, and a template for an audience interview guide.
And finally, a reminder that we’ll be talking about audience research and development (and a whole lot more) at the Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin this October. 

To join us, buy your early-bird ticket by August 19, and apply for a scholarship if you need help covering the cost of travel and lodging.

– Ben DeJarnette, communications manager, and the LION team

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9 resources for independent publishers

1. Talk community news in Chicago. Request an invitation to the Google News Initiative’s Community News Summit on August 16. The event will focus on successes and challenges in running small, community-oriented news organizations. 

2. Apply for a grant to support your election coverage. The American Press Institute's Election Coverage & Community Listening Fund will help publishers engage their communities between now and November 2022. (Deadline: August 17)

3. Hear lessons from two local news founders at this Google News Initiative workshop on August 17 with LION members Stacy Feldman of Boulder Reporting Lab and Nissa Rhee of Borderless Magazine. 

4. Trade ideas for writing better newsletters. ONA is hosting an idea-swapping meetup on August 19 for newsletter editors, producers and anyone interested in starting or improving a newsletter product for news. 

5. Pitch your best podcast idea. Three finalists will get to deliver a live pitch at the RESONATE Podcast Festival in Richmond, Virginia. (Deadline: August 23) 

6. Enter the ‘Local that Works’ contest. The $20,000 cash prize will go to an organization that “demonstrates the power of local media to inform, engage, educate, inspire, convene, and transform communities.” (Deadline: August 23)

7. Become a Report for America host newsroom. Applications are now open for news businesses that want to host an RFA fellow starting in 2023. (Deadline: October 3)

8. Raise money to support a journalism project. The Local Media Association is now accepting applications from independent publishers that want to be able to accept tax-deductible donations from their readers, even if they’re for-profit businesses. (Deadline: Rolling)

9. Find tools to improve your tech stack. The LION Tools & Services Directory features the most popular tools we know about for accounting, publishing, analytics and more.

What we're reading

Startup struggles. What a veteran journalist learned from launching and closing her own news business. (Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media

Community benefits. How a tech news startup is trying to strengthen its subscription product by doubling down on community-building and networking. (Axios)

The case for ads. How an advertising marketplace would help the vast majority of Substack writers who can’t make it on subscriptions alone. (Simon Owens’s Media Newsletter)

From boon to swoon? Why the hype around newsletters has cooled off a bit, and how we should expect them to evolve. (Vox)

Better together. What newsrooms have learned about the benefits of teaming up and sharing resources. (Nieman Reports)

LIONs in the news

New York City has a local government budget of more than $101 billion. LION member City Limits has a budget about 0.001% that size. 

But who has better data on homelessness in the city? According to a profile in The New Yorker, that would be City Limits!

The nonprofit newsroom built a shelter bed tracker that pulls data from more sources than the city’s official count – and it appears that Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is now trying to catch up.

So kudos to City Limits, and shout-out to all the LION members who pick up the slack when local governments drop the ball. 👏

And in other LION member news…
  • Shasta Scout was featured by Indiegraf for its commitment to covering local Indigenous communities even in the face of some vocal pushback.

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